Physicians who communicated face-to-face with their patients without the use of computers were not only seen as being more compassionate, professional, and having better communication skills, they were also preferred as providers, according to study results presented at the 2017 Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Symposium.

Electronic health records (EHR) are being utilized with increased frequency in health care, but the effect using computers during patient consultations may have on communication has not been explored. 

For this study 4 videos were prepared; 2 videos depicted different doctors in face-to-face interaction, and 2 depicted the doctors in a consultation with a computer. Researchers randomly assigned 120 patients with advanced cancer to watch 2 videos of patient-physician interactions. Both sets of videos had an identical script.

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Upon completing the first video, patients were asked to complete a questionnaire grading the physician’s professionalism (0=poor, 20=very good), compassion (0=best, 50=worst), and communication (0=poor, 70=excellent). The patients then watched a second video of the topic (face-to-face or computer) that they did not previously see by the different actor-doctor. After the second video, patients were asked to rate which physician they would prefer.

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Patients rated the face-to-face consultation compared with using the computer as being more professional (median 19 vs 14, respectively; P =.013), compassionate (median 9 vs 20; P =.0003), and communicative (median 65 vs 54; P =.0001).

After completing the second video, 72% (86) of patients reported preferring face-to-face communication.

The authors noted that the “study answers questions about patients’ perceptions, but not how to address the issue of computer use in the exam room.”


Haider A, Cochien-Tanco K, Epner M, et al. Effects of examination room computer on cancer patients perception of physician’s compassion, communication skills, and professionalism: a randomized clinical trial. Poster presentation at: 2017 Palliative and Supportive Care in Oncology Symposium; October 27-28, 2017; San Diego, CA. Abstract 26.